Meet the head - Penny Austin at Halstead Prep School


- Credit: Archant

Penny Austin, Headmistress of Halstead Prep School in Woking, loves musicals and finds Bridget Jones’s Diary particularly good for a giggle

Originally published in A+ Education South East Autumn 2015.

If you hadn’t become a teacher what would you have done instead? - I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to teach. I taught the local Sunday school as a teenager. With a passion for music too, I also spent a few years singing professionally and teaching singing and clarinet before entering the classroom. Twelve years ago I became a head so I have done everything I have ever dreamed of doing.

Was there any type of school dinner that you couldn’t stand? - At school I remember the smell of over boiled cabbage filling the building which was not at all appetising (and we had to eat everything we were given.) Thank goodness for our delicious school lunches now with so much choice.

What is your favourite film and why? - I appreciate good quality drama but also love anything musical and films to make me laugh. Classics like The Italian Job and The Imitation Game has to be a favourite for its fantastic acting and social comment. All the Harry Potter films too for the imaginative story lines and brilliant sets and effects – and, of course, Bridget Jones’s Diary for a giggle. I am more likely to be found at a theatre, concert hall or opera house than the cinema though.

What were your favourite lessons at school? - I loved school and enjoyed every subject. I was always busy taking part in everything sporty, musical and dramatic that I could. When I reached the sixth form and had to choose a direction music, drama and languages won.

Your Desert Island Disc(s)... - I would find it difficult to choose just one. Debussey’s La Mer is a must for relaxation. Faure’s En Piere sung by Geraldine McGreevy for its beauty (and it is a song I loved learning) and I Was Glad by Parry which was sung at our wedding; my husband, my children and I have also sung it many times together. Memory from Cats would also have to be included for nostalgic moments.

How do you relax? - I sing in choirs, love long walks in the countryside, read many books, swim and spend time (when I can get it) chilling out in the spa.

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What is the one thing that makes you most proud of where you work? - It has to be the friendliness – there’s a smile around every corner – and the enthusiasm of all the girls and the staff. Halstead is such a lovely place to be.

If you could be Prime Minister for a day what’s the first thing that you would do? - I would make sure that all children are taught in small classes. At Halstead the maximum class size is 16 in the Pre-Prep and up to 18 in years 3-6. In small classes children can all be taught as individuals and receive the attention, help and support that they deserve. I would also enrich the National Curriculum to ensure that all children can benefit from the enrichment and opportunities that pupils in prep schools have – plenty of sport, music, drama, art, food technology as well as the core subjects.


School of thought

Maths or English? - I enjoyed maths at school but English was a greater strength

School dinners or packed lunches? - Definitely school dinners - the choice of fresh, healthy food we are lucky to have is amazing. No packed lunch could match them.

Newsletter or Twitter? - There’s an important place for both. Twitter is so accessible but you can’t beat keeping Halstead’s colourful action-packed weekly newsletter on your coffee table.

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